The Vienna Ensemble in Action

This week I installed the new “free” Vienna Ensemble v2.0. Free to existing users, the Vienna Ensemble is the new virtual mixer from the Vienna Symphonic Library that now accompanies the Vienna Instruments. Vienna Ensemble can be used in standalone mode on a separate “farm” computer or within a sequencing program.

Stating the Obvious
Here it is after being launched;

You start off with the Master Bus and Instrument 1. In the upper right-hand corner there are tabs that let you insert or remove Instruments or Buses. By repeatedly clicking Insert Instrument you can insert 16 instances, one per MIDI channel per port. Once set up, you see a channel strip layout on the left similar to Samplitude and Sonar. Scroll down to see the remaining Instruments.

Let’s look at the mini-channel strip for Instrument 1. From left to right you have the horizontal fader that’s set to 0.0. Immediately to the right is the read-out which you can also set with the mouse by pressing and holding down the mouse button and moving it forward or backward to make your change. To the far right is conventional panning.

Below the Volume fader is a button to turn the Instrument on or off. Next is FX which you can click to insert a specific effect(s) for that channel strip. This is followed by Sends and Master Bus. Depending on your audio card, you have a lot of routing flexibility.

The Instrument can be named by clicking on it and typing in the desired name. The change is reflected in the vertical channel strip.

What the mini-channel strip lacks is Mute (M) and Solo (S) and the ability to assign the MIDI channel. If possible, it would be great to see this added so that all the work is in one place.

To bring up the Vienna Instruments interface, just click on Instrument name and it pops up. At the very top of the instrument interface, you set up the MIDI port and channel plus keyboard range.

The vertical channel strip has a conventional layout with the exception of power panning. Here’s how Vienna describes it in their manual:

The Vienna Ensemble offers two different pan modes: Normal panning, where the volume of the
“weaker” channel is lowered correspondingly, and power panning, where you don’t lose any
stereo information but can narrow or even collapse a channel’s stereo signal as desired by
dragging the left and right handles. Clicking in the space between the handles or dragging the
center dot in the graphic view allows you to move the channel’s stereo center.

For Instrument 1 I have Harp 1 and it’s panned to center.

Here it is, panned left as it would be in the studio or on stage. You can power the panning using either the graph or the horizontal bar directly below it. This is an amazing advantage for creating effective orchestral seating positions. With the strings alone, this gives you the opportunity to set alternate seating arrangements. When using VI with other libraries, you now have the happy option of being able to better match the orchestral seating of the other libraries.

Receiving Volume Messages
The virtual mixing board is set to operate like a traditional board where 0.0 is unity gain. Volume on the actual Vienna Instrument follows the MIDI range of 0-127. One thing I noticed is that from Logic on the Mac to VE on the PC, if the Vienna Instrument for a specific channel is open, you can see the fader moves from Logic. When it’s not open, you can hear the fader moves from Logic. However, in the Vienna Ensemble GUI, while you hear the volume changes, the faders don’t reflect MIDI volume data from Logic.

Adding Effects
Vienna Ensemble read nearly all the reverbs on the system including those from Cubase SX, Voxengo Pristine Space, and the TC Works Power Core. From Cubase SX3, Room Works loaded. Again, virtually seamless. Overall, a joy, not to mention, a relief, to use because of its easy implementation.

Minor Criticisms
Other than the fader issue (which I don’t believe I’ve seen addressed on the Vienna forum), my only real complaint is that the print is a little small in places. While nitpicky, I do get thrown by the name Vienna Ensemble. I understand the thinking behind the name, but Vienna Virtual Mixer is what it really is.

As advertised, running Vienna Instruments with the Vienna Ensemble is indeed seamless. It really makes working with the Vienna Instruments much easier than what I was experiencing trying to use them within V-Stack or Forte. Assuming you already know how to operate a mixing board at a basic level, once installed, it’s a snap to use. The learning curve is very short.

The trade-off is that you can’t use other VSTi’s inside Vienna Ensemble unless it’s an audio plug-in VE recognizes.

That being said, we’re looking at the future. In 2008 and beyond, I think that we’ll be seeing the mini-computer concept applied to the production studio. Potentially, this means you’ll have a Vienna machine, an EastWest machine, and they’ll have 8GB to 16GB of RAM capable of loading an entire orchestral template on either machine. So, there’s only one thing left to say:

Vienna, good job.

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